Exhibition Mentorship: Andrew Nixon
If you’ve ever considered taking huge, bold steps with showing your own artwork, then you’re probably aware that there can be no more rewarding an endeavor than holding a one-person exhibition in a gallery space. Coming up in May, the RMSP Gallery will play host to an exhibition by fine art photographer, Andrew Nixon, which is the culmination of his six months of work completing our Exhibition Mentorship program with instructor Kerri Rosenstein. Andrew was kind enough to answer these tough, hard-hitting (maybe not so much) questions to get to the nitty-gritty of just who he his and how the whole exhibition mentorship process has gone for him.
First of all, for our blog readers, please share a bit of your background with us. Where do you hail from? Kids? Dogs? Cats? Birds? Iguanas? Education? Professional background? Personal interests? How did you first get started in photography?
I always feel a little like Dr. Evil from ‘Austin Powers’ when asked to give a short personal history. I’m originally from a small mining village in Yorkshire. After completing an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at the University College of North Wales and then a PhD in Biochemistry at the National Institute of Medical Research in Mill Hill, London (as an aside the entrance to this building was used as the entrance to Arkham Asylum in the movie Batman Begins) I moved to the US to work in the Chemistry Dept. at Penn State. I thought that I was going to be in the US for 2 years. That was 1995 and I’m still here! From State College I moved to Boston to work at a biotech company. Along the way I got married and had 2 kids. I’ve been interested in the visual arts for a long time but like many people was disillusioned with drawing when I was younger because I wasn’t able to generate photorealistic drawings. I never owned a film SLR but bought a digital SLR in 2005 when my son was born. I’ve become progressively more interested in photography since then.
What are some of your main influences and inspiration for your work?
It’s funny, when I picked up the camera in 2005 I was largely ignorant of the photographic world – one of the student interns at the company I work at had to explain to me who Ansel Adams was. So I was very much a blank canvas in 2005 and have subsequently been shaped by interactions with some really great photographers that I’ve worked with either individually or that I’ve taken workshops from. Key people in my development as a photographer have been:
William Neill (http://www.williamneill.com/). Bill’s online portfolio development workshop that I took was ground zero for the path that I’m on now. Bill was very supportive of the work that the participants of his workshop were doing and encouraged us to benchmark against our own work rather than compete against others, which was a shift in thinking for me. Additionally, Bill turned me on to a number of the greats that I’d been unaware of including Ernst Haas and Eliot Porter.
Alison Shaw (http://www.alisonshaw.com/). The daily critique sessions in Alison’s workshops, and specifically Alison’s comments on the workshop participant’s photographs from the day’s shoots, advanced my understanding of composition beyond the realm of the simple ‘rules’ that you might find in a book.
Cary Wolinsky (http://www.trilliumstudios.com/). In addition to helping me find a few gems in my early portfolio, Cary has really helped me find my own voice and to become a better editor of my own work along the way.
John Paul Caponigro (http://www.johnpaulcaponigro.com/). One of my favorite exercises from JP was to ‘shoot the postcard’, make the obvious photograph, then push past that and do something more creative. JP also highlighted the potential for writing to have a positive impact on your photography, something that I have really embraced in the last couple of months.
In addition to the photographers mentioned above, I find work from people such as David Fokos, Michael Levin, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Michael Kenna and especially Paul Caponigro inspiring.
Increasingly I find that writing is a great way for me to organize my thoughts about creativity and photography and so the blog has evolved over time to reflect that. Getting feedback on some of the things that I’m wrestling with has been very useful. I also like sharing the things that I’m reading or that caught my eye with whomever is out there on the same journey that I’m on, in the hope that we’ll all get something out of it.
How did you first learn about the RMSP Exhibition Mentorship program? What intrigued you about it and inspired you to get involved?
I was looking for a program that would move my photography along and decided that 1:1 instruction would be the best way to achieve the goals I had for myself. After looking at a couple of options I contacted Jeanne (Chaput de Saintonge) at RMSP. Jeanne put me in touch with Kerri so that I could get a sense of what the program would be. I had a couple of good conversations with Kerri that ultimately led me to taking the leap.
The program is 26 weeks and a minimum of 50 contact hours with Kerri via Skype, and email. What was your typical process during this 6 months? Did you feel like that was enough time?
I’ve been amazed at how well Skype and other file sharing tools such as Dropbox and Evernote worked. Typically Kerri would have an assignment that I was to work on. I would upload the finished assignments to a Dropbox folder we shared so that Kerri could review them in advance of our Skype call. We would then discuss the work via Skype. I have appreciated Kerri’s flexibility with my travel schedule which has meant our Skype calls were occasionally at odd times, but usually they were early mornings or late in the day depending on where in the world we both were. One of our ‘calls’ was via FaceTime on Kerri’s phone so that I could meet the RMSP team an get a tour of the gallery. I felt that there was enough time to discuss work with Kerri.
What was the most challenging aspect of this exhibition mentorship process? What was the most fulfilling aspect?
Even though Kerri went to great lengths to explain to me how she works with students, which is to tailor the program to their interests, in reality I still didn’t get it. As it turned out the program isn’t a cookie cutter program, open your book on p. 9 kind of thing, but in my case at least, evolved with the on-going conversation with Kerri. Kerri pushed me to explore other media as a vehicle for my creativity which stretched what I was comfortable with. These experiences, drawing and making videos, subsequently informed my photography. So, I would say just doing this work was both challenging and fulfilling.
Have you had exhibitions in the past?
No. This will be my first.
What goals may you have for your artwork in the future? Professionally?
While the exhibition marks the end of the mentorship program, it is in many ways a beginning. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey that I’ve begun. I have worked in the past with Bob Korn (http://www.bobkornimaging.com/index.html), a master printmaker based in Orleans on Cape Cod, to understand how to print my photographs, that is something that I will continue to work on with him. I will continue to photograph the coast but also explore what else resonates with me as subject matter for my photographs. Additionally I will look for opportunities to share my work. I know for some people this means entering photo competitions. Competitions bring out the worst in me, an intense desire to win, and this can also translate into thinking about what do my photographs need to look like in order to win the competition. I’d rather stay away from doing what it takes to win a competition and spend more time working on getting closer to being able to make the images that I have in my head appear in the print.
Professionally? I find myself in the place that a lot of amateur photographers do; asking myself how do I make the leap to be able to make a living from my photography? Or if it’s even possible? Right now, I’m happy just having my work seen by more and more people. This exhibit is a big step in that direction and I’m really excited about it!
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions for us, Andy. Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
To see more of Andrew’s work, visit his website at www.andrewnixonphoto.com.
Andrew Nixon’s exhibition, Going Coastal, will be displayed in the Rocky Mountain School of Photography Gallery from May 4th – August 3, 2012. The opening reception will take place Friday, May 4th from 5 – 8 p.m. with the artist present.